Former officer Derick Kuilan’s on-duty ATV joyride that critically injured two people — and hugely embarrassed the Miami Beach Police Department — will cost him more than one year of his life.
A Miami-Dade judge on Thursday sentenced Kuilan to 18 months in prison, to be followed by the same amount of time on house arrest.
“You are not above the law,” Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez told Kuilan.
The prison sentence concluded a sentencing hearing that included contrasting emotional appeals from one victim, her life shattered by massive injuries, and from Kuilan’s sobbing wife, a mother of two.
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For his part, Kuilan said he had long wanted to apologize personally to the two people on the beach he ran over that morning. He acknowledged he was guilty of poor judgment but insisted he was not the “person the media portrays.”
“I’m not an animal,” Kuilan said.
Before trial, Kuilan had turned down a plea offer of three years in prison. Prosecutors Thursday asked for up to four years behind bars. A court-ordered “pre-sentence” investigation recommended just 90 days in jail.
Defense lawyer Evan Hoffman called the 18-month prison term “a fair sentence.”
“He’ll do his time,” Hoffman said. “He’ll get out and his life will go on.”
The ATV episode roiled a police department that had already been plagued by controversial shootings and allegations of officer misconduct, while sparking a flurry of lawsuits and national headlines.
It was on July 3, 2011, that Kuilan made national news when he and a fellow officer stopped by the Clevelander hotel, where he invited a bride-to-be Adalee Martin Jones on a joyride. Just before the accident, Kuilan — mugging for the camera — took a photo with her bachelorette party at the hotel nightclub, an image that became notorious.
Prosecutors said Kuilan, who was on duty and in uniform, was drunk as he recklessly rocketed down the South Beach sand with the woman, his headlights off. The heavy vehicle plowed into Kitzie Nicanor and Luis Almonte, friends who had walked out on the sand to watch the sunrise.
Jurors last month acquitted Kuilan of driving while intoxicated, despite evidence that he was legally drunk five hours after the crash. Prosecutors had lambasted Miami Beach police for botching the investigation and the delay in drawing Kuilan’s blood.
But Kuilan nonetheless was convicted of reckless driving with serious bodily injury, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years prison.
Almonte suffered a broken femur and now has a metal rod in his leg. Nicanor lost her spleen, suffered a hip injury and severe brain trauma.
In a letter read to the judge, Nicanor described constant migraines and ringing in her ears, intense shivering when the temperature drops and attacks of dread that have reduced her to a shell of a mother to her young son.
“I’m too emotional. It’s rough when he gets emotional,” she said. “I panic and my parents have to take over. … I feel like a 13-year-old in a 32-year-old’s body.”
Nicanor could not muster up the nerve to speak in person, instead standing by the side of prosecutor David I. Gilbert as he read the letter. The young woman’s mother described Nicanor’s frustrating behavior, holing up in her room, sleeping endlessly, growing aggravated with her playful son.
“On several occasions, she has told me she wishes she was dead,” her mother said in another letter read to the court. “I look at her and I don’t recognize her as the adult she was before the accident.”
Gilbert noted that while he has worked with police for decades, Kuilan’s actions defied belief — even during the trial. At one point, Kuilan took a “selfie” photo with a Miami Beach cop while in the courtroom hallway.
In the image, tweeted by a Miami Herald reporter the night of the verdict, Kuilan sneers in a pose similar to the infamous bachelorette party photo.
His family insisted Kuilan was not mocking the justice system.
“He’s a goofy guy,” his sister Damaris Balceiro said. “These are his facial expressions.”
Relatives and supporters described Kuilan as a devoted father of two who became heavily involved in church after the accident.
“This man is an amazing man of God. He is loving, caring, respectful and generous,” wife Veronica Kuilan said, sobbing. “He had an accident. He is not a criminal.”